Saturday, December 13, 2008

If These Houses Could Talk !

Because what the penthouse owner at 150E93 wants to do - construct a second penthouse atop his extant penthouse on historic Marx Brothers Place - is not legal (and was even disapproved by the NYC Department of Buildings), he must now ask the NYC Board of Standards & Appeals (BSA) for a special exception to the law. Please let BSA know that you object to this penthouse proposal:

The penthouse owner, who also happens to serve as the Co-Op Board President at 150E93 and is a well-known NYC General Contractor, should finally be denied his request for a special permit. While CB8 failed to do its job by approving this controversial penthouse proposal without considering the impact on the affected neighborhood, NYC's BSA now has an opportunity to set things right.

There's a whole host of reasons why BSA should not grant this special permit, not the least of which is because the penthouse proposal is completely out-of-scale and context with the neighborhood and threatens its unique historic character.

Whether the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has yet or ever will include this block in the Carnegie Hill Historic District (CHHD) as it should, such designation, or lack thereof, in no way detracts from the actual history of the block.

Before ever approving a variance from the zoning code, CB8 is required by law to take into account the impact of any such proposal on the special character of the neighborhood to be affected. So, had CB8 actually done its job, the applicant would never have gotten as far as BSA. But alas, expecting CB8 to do its job is much like expecting snow in Gotham in the middle of August - not gonna happen !

Nonetheless, the fact remains that, as a matter of public record, CB8 and LPC were provided copies of the Request for Evaluation (RFE) asking the City to extend the CHHD one block east to include historic Marx Brothers Place (the RFE was delivered to both on September 8, 2008). So CB8 & LPC were both fully apprised of the fact that this block is the indisputable Rosetta Stone to any credible understanding of the development history of Carnegie Hill, and as such must be vigilantly protected as an indispensable chapter in NYC history.

Clearly, to grant a special permit in variance from the NYC zoning code under these circumstances would cause unnecessary and significant harm to the unique historic character of the affected neighborhood. Ergo, CB8 has no legitimate excuse for having cleared the applicant through the first hurdle in his quest to tower up above the historic skyline of Marx Brothers Place.

In addition to the fact that brownstones on this block are older than any of the brownstones that already enjoy the protection of the CHHD (in fact, they were built in 1864 even before Lexington Avenue stretched this far north!), East 93rd Street is world-renowned as a mecca for Marx Brothers fans who make regular pilgrimages to stand on the steps of the beloved childhood home of these celebrated comic geniuses.

Both CB8 and LPC also know from the RFE that the Marx Brothers are not the only famous NYC team of siblings to have a deep and abiding connection to this remarkable collection of historic 19th century homes.

The Loew Brothers, Frederick (a judge & NYC Register) and Edward (deeply involved in NYC politics & business), built 184 & 186 East 93rd Street in 1875. The Loew family continued to own both of these extant houses throughout the period of time that the Brothers' political dealings were frequently splashed across the pages of the newspapers, having become embroiled in one political scandal or another, due to their close association with the notorious Tammany Hall.

And it just might have been the well-connected Loew Brothers who prompted another well-known New Yorker, William Orth, to purchase the house right next door at 182 East 93rd Street which was designed by architect E.D. Gornsey in 1880, just one year before the Marx Brothers House was built across the street.

Sadly, the Orth house at 182 East 93rd Street was razed to rubble in March 2008. The house was one of three ornate side-by-side sister houses for which CB8 gave its blessings to a developer to demolish over the strong objections of the neighborhood.

And once the NYC DOB granted the requisite Demolition Permit, the slippery slope of zoning irregularities triggered by CB8's tacit approval, gave birth to a mid-block incursion expressly prohibited in R8B Zoning (the zoning designation to which this block belongs). Time and time again, CB8 has failed this block, failed this city's historically significant inventory, failed this city's zoning goals and failed this neighborhood.

So please don't let CB8 get away with this ! Let BSA hear from you at the Public Hearing - Tuesday, December 16th !

And remember, if you can't make it in person, please send your objections regarding the penthouse proposal for historic Marx Brothers Place via EMAIL by clicking on this link:

ALL OBJECTIONS MUST INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION: BSA Calendar Number - 162-08-BZ, Property ID - 150 East 93rd Street, Block 1521, Lot 51, Manhattan.

Thanks for your continued interest in historic Marx Brothers Place !

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